It’s reassuring to know that for every low-carb, yoga-fueled, soy latte and hybrid situation there is an antidote. A bit wrong, a bit politically incorrect, and more than a bit overdone.
Wrong indeed, but oh-so-right. Like a thumping V8, rear-wheel-drive, big car comfort for two and even bigger carrying capacity in the rear... Holden’s SS Ute has all that in spades.
It’s a living homage to the all-alloy American muscle housed beneath the bonnet.
2010 Commodore Ute SS-V Special Edition.
Coupled with the vented bonnet and chrome-trimmed door handles the SS-V makes an unmistakeable statement.
Automatic versions also benefit from Holden’s fuel-saving Active Fuel Management technology, which shuts down four of the engines eight cylinders in low-load driving situations.
What’s the appeal?
If you have to ask then the SS-V probably isn’t going to be for you. The combination of a big-gun V8 engine, rear-wheel-drive and the, ahem, benefits of low-weight rear bodywork hold a special place for the faithful.
Add the lure of styling to set your SS-V apart from the crowd, without having to stump up for the likes of a Maloo, and the Special Edition becomes even more compelling.
What features does it have?
On top of those Pontiac-inspired styling revisions and 6.0 litre V8 engine, the SS-V Special Edition also includes dual-zone climate control, alloy pedals, Bluetooth connectivity and six-disc CD sound.
Leather sports-seats with electric height and tilt adjust for the driver, passenger’s lumbar support and flip-forward access to the in-cabin storage area take care of comfort.
Being Commodore-based also means the Ute picks up multi-link independent rear suspension. SS-V Utes also benefit from Holden’s lower and stiffer FE2 sports suspension set up.
Outside there are 19-inch alloy wheels, quad exhaust outlets poking from beneath the integrated rear bumper and an impact-resistant polyethylene tub-liner in the tray topped off by Holden’s innovative zip-lock style soft tonneau cover.
What’s under the bonnet?
As far as technological excitement goes, the push-rod Gen IV is more like Grandpa’s axe... (and why change something that doesn’t need changing?).
And, let’s face it, 260kW of power at 5700 rpm and 517Nm of torque at 4400 rpm prove that there is ample life in this bruising ‘bent-vee’.
Included with auto-equipped versions is Holden’s Active Fuel Management system which improves fuel economy by shutting down half of the engine’s cylinders when cruising under light throttle.
As soon as more power is required the deactivated cylinders are fired up instantly before the driver is even aware.
Holden mates the AFM V8 to a six-speed automatic with manual mode; or, if you prefer, a six-speed manual is available.
In manual format, the fuel saving AFM system gets the chop, however power is increased to 270kW and torque to 530Nm.
How does it drive?
Swing into traffic and, although there’s plenty of thrust available, the SS-V Ute remains composed and quiet should you elect not to tap into the deep power reserve.
A lack of weight over the rear axle and slightly more load-rated suspension calibration should be a recipe for disaster. You’d reckon. But excellent suspension tuning and clever Electronic Stability Control programming mean the Ute is every bit as driveable as its sedan and wagon counterparts.
Pitching the SS-V into a corner shows that Holden’s chassis engineers have dialled a little more restraint into the Ute’s ESP. Where the sedan and Sportwagon are happy to give just a few degrees of slip the Ute cuts power and applies brakes fractionally earlier to help keep things in line.
Running between Bunnings and the building site proves that the SS-V does an excellent job of behaving like the responsible adult. The transmission is happy to shuffle off quick and unobtrusive shifts, the engine stays hushed and the ride is firm but not jiggly, particularly with a couple of bags of concrete (or similar ballast) over the rear axle.
Prod the accelerator into the carpet with a little more verve however, and the whole package starts making a lot more sense. A 1757kg vehicle built for hay hauling probably shouldn’t get up and go with such urgency, but indeed, if required, the SS-V can.
It’s interesting, and maybe it’s to do with the smaller cabin volume, but as impressive as the SS-V Ute’s soundtrack is, it doesn’t seem quite as raucously vocal as the Sedan or Sportwagon.
GM’s 6L80 automatic gearbox works well in concert with the V8 engine, able to channel the high torque demands of the engine into useful outputs to the driveshaft. In comparison to Ford’s ZF six-speed automatic the GM box is never quite as responsive, but only trails by the finest of margins.
Through hills, on demanding drives or even just wandering through town, the automatic box picks its ratios well. Not so good is the momentary pause, as though second-guessing itself, on kick-down under heavy throttle.
It’s a quirk that can interrupt power-flow when asked to kickdown two gears. The feeling of nothing happening is only momentary, but it can be a little disconcerting when powering out of an apex (and can have the ESP jumping in).
Another downside, and it’s a ute thing, is that it’s no easy task trying to get a decent over-shoulder glimpse when changing lanes. Made harder in the SS-V Ute’s case by the sail-panels behind the C-pillars and tiny quarter-glass, making for a decent blind-spot if you’re not careful.
Highway driving is a calm affair however. Thanks to the taut tonneau cover, there is no drumming and thumping from wind turbulence over the tub. Good soundproofing also proves effective in preventing tyre roar from transmitting itself from the load bed to the cabin.
What did our passengers think?
Only room for one passenger at a time unfortunately. All who occupied the pew however were impressed with the ability to distance themselves from the dashboard while still able to stow a full-face helmet and complete motorcycle leathers, over-sized back-pack or similar behind the passenger’s seat.
The one touch flip-forward feature on the seatbacks was similarly appreciated and considered a touch of innovation otherwise missing from utes at large.
The wide bucket seats are comfortable and generously padded, but there’s a downside to the width. Even with winged backs and heavy bolsters for driver and passenger, there’s still plenty of room to move about during cornering.
" class="small img-responsive"/>Interior quality and feel?
Before too long the VE Commodore range will be celebrating its fourth birthday, all without a major change to the interior. As a result the dash is starting to show its age.
The basic layout is still strong. Controls are clearly labelled and in the right place, but some of the plastics are a little low rent and there’s that finger-pinching handbrake that isn’t totally intuitive in its operation.
The materials have passed the test of time though, as has the quality of the fit. The trim holds together without rattly bits, but there’s still (and always has been) a lack of fasteners where the centre stack meets the console. There are also some surfaces around the footwell and at the sides of the console that are prone to marking.
The cargo bed measures 1208 litres of volume from floor to tonneau. There’s also enough room in the bed to fit a standard building sheet or load up a dirtbike and close the tailgate according to Holden.
The real world test saw a two-seater lounge, two bedside tables and a small entertainment unit fit in with the tailgate shut. Not a bad effort although the cargo bay seems shallow.
Holden’s clever soft tonneau at least has enough added bungee-cords strung beneath it to cover most awkward loads, although the roof mounted antenna puts an end to throwing the tonneau over the roof as in day of yore.
" class="small img-responsive"/>How safe is it?
With equipment like front, side and curtain airbags, plus ABS and ESP, and pretensioning seatbelts included as standard, the Ute shares its list of life-savers with the Commodore sedan.
Likewise the Ute also receives a 5-Star ANCAP safety rating just like its sedan and wagon counterparts. Fuel consumption and green rating.
Even though the AFM technology does its best to keep fuel consumption at bay, the simple physics of a 6.0 litre V8 pushing around one and three quarter tonnes means fuel economy isn’t too exciting.
Officially the mixed cycle is rated at 12.9 l/100km and to the SS-V’s credit the test figure came back at 13.4 l/100km.
The green vehicle guide awards just two stars to the SS-V automatic, with CO2 emissions of 307 g/km costing valuable points in the overall score.
How does it compare?
The biggest difference of course with that foursome is the high-riding 4x4 drivetrains matched to V6 or turbo diesel engines with dual cab or extra-cab bodies on a ladder chassis.
There is of course one contender that goes toe-to-toe; that’s the Ford Falcon XR8. Starting from $8000 less than the SS-V (at $41,990 plus on road costs) gives the XR8 a good head-start, but ticking option boxes to bring it up to similar spec removed that disparity.
There is the required V8 engine however, which punches out 30kW more and sounds ever so slightly more appealing. Put through its paces, the XR8’s six-speed auto is also the better behaved and more refined.
The Commodore’s independent rear-end also makes way for a leaf-sprung rear in the Ute, showing off its tradesman’s roots.
Inside, the XR8 has the SS-V trumped for style and useability of its interior. That said, any advantages of one are met by an advantage of the other.
And those carrying the red or blue colours in their hearts know full well that you rarely cross the floor when it comes to matters of the badge and which ute to park in the driveway.
Holden’s new car warranty coverage spans three years or 100,000km and includes 24 hour roadside assist, additional extended warranty protection is also available.
Nitrate silver, Poison Ivy green, Nitrate grey, Voodoo blue, Phantom black, Red hot and Heron white are available matched with Onyx (black) leather.
" class="small img-responsive"/>How much?
The SS-V Special Edition carries the same price as the ‘regular’ SS-V starting from $47,490 (plus on road costs) for a six-speed manual with the automatic costing $2000 more.
Put simply, a ute like this is just too much fun. No 4x4 ute will ever match the on-road thrills of Holden’s SS-V Ute.
Ford’s XR8 however is another story, and it’s a close-run contest. And, despite the differences between the two, it is the similarities that makes them hard to separate.
When it comes to something just a little different though, the Pontiac front bumper of the SS-V Special Edition adds something ‘special’ to its character.
Besides being a thumping drive, it manages to pull long lingering looks from across crowded city streets. It’s wrong, yes, but oh-so-right. That alone has to be worth something.